How would a barefoot lawyer working in Ugandas wind up winning an American Bar Association “Most Influencial Legal Person” award – making him one of the ABA 10 most important lawyers anywhere? What did he do?
Gerald Abila is the founding director of an organization called the Barefoot Law Project, which is a community effort started in 2012 with 10 volunteers and an iPhone, providing free online legal services to Ugandans.
The latest accolade for legal trailblazer Gerald Abila, the founder and managing director of the BareFoot Law Project (BFLP), is being named as one of the 10 most influential legal persons in the world by the American Bar Association (ABA). Abila, 31, is the first African to receive the award, named Legal Rebels, since it was started six years ago, according to the journal published by ABA.
“This year we present nine highly-qualified additions, rounding out our list to 100 Legal Rebels named by the Journal since 2009,” said the ABA’s statement.
“They are strivers, pushing change and rejecting the rule book to build careers, serve clients and improve access to justice.”
Abila, who is also a law lecturer at Kampala International University, said the accolade was a form of appreciation on the global stage for local innovations from Uganda.
“For us to be recognised internationally shows an appreciation of the innovations that are happening in Uganda. It is an endorsement of the sort of work BareFoot law does and of our legal system, especially coming in light of all the negative things that keep coming up about Uganda’s legal system,” said the 2013 Young Achievers’ Awards category winner.
With BareFoot Law creating waves around the world, Abila and his army of 10 volunteer staff might have to get used to the avalanche of accolades. Since the organisation was formed two years ago, it has won at least 10 local and international awards in two years.
Early this month, BareFoot Law was recognised for the second year running by the World Wide Web Foundation, an organisation set up and managed by the inventor of the internet, Sir Tim Berners-Lee
“One encouraging counter-example highlighted by our researchers is Uganda’s BareFoot Law, a non-profit organisation serving 128,000 people monthly with free legal advice via Facebook, Twitter, email and SMS. Its mandate is “to use available tools of Information Technology to disseminate … law services and education cost effectively,” said the World Wide Web Index Report, 2013.
Unlike most not-for-profit organisations in Uganda that depend on foreign funding, Abila says they have funded BareFoot Law from their own pockets to-date.
“We are self-funded,” he said. “We do not rely on donor funding at all. We rely on the goodwill of the volunteers that wake up every day to come to BareFoot Law and leave every evening after everyone’s queries and questions have been sorted out. For the last two years, we have been contributing [portions of] our salaries from other jobs we do towards ensuring that this thing succeeds.”